CHARLES TOWN – Retired Charles Town Junior High principal Mary Doakes is being remembered for the way she mixed loving encouragement and hard-as-nails discipline.
“You commanded respect, and you also doled it out in droves,” Kelli Cruz Little wrote on Doakes’ Facebook page. “You were tough, yet fair and kind. … You’ll surely be missed by everyone whose lives you touched – and that’s a lot.”
Doakes, who died last week at age 82, made Jefferson County history midway through the 1973-1974 school year when she became the first African-American principal of an integrated school here.
Her funeral is set for 11 a.m. Saturday at Eackles-Spencer & Norton Funeral Home in Harpers Ferry.
Doakes was named assistant principal at Charles Town Junior High in 1971 and remained at the school until she retired in June of 1989. Earlier in her career, she taught at Eagle Avenue Elementary and Page-Jackson High, both Charles Town schools for African-Americans.
When Taylor became an administrator, integration was relatively new to the Jefferson County school system. Despite the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court Brown decision calling an end to school segregation, Jefferson school officials continued to separate students by race until 1965.
Charles Town was a Southern city where schools, eateries and many other aspects of life were strictly segregated when Doakes was born here on May 22, 1936, the only daughter in a family of boys.
One of her older brothers, James L. Taylor, also pursued a career in education in their hometown, earning his master’s degree from West Virginia University and then becoming a beloved coach and teacher at Jefferson High. Her other brothers also earned advance degrees as well and found success in Tampa, New Jersey and Oxon Hill, Md.
After Doakes graduated from Page-Jackson, she initially enrolled at Storer College, the landmark institution founded in Harpers Ferry just after the Civil War to help educate those newly freed from slavery.
When Storer closed its doors in 1955 following the state’s decision to cut off funding after the Brown ruling, Doakes finished her bachelor’s degree, with honors, at then-Shepherd College in 1957.
She continued her studies first at Michigan State University in East Lansing and then completed her master’s degree in school administration at WVU in 1963.
Doakes, a member of Wainwright Baptist Church in Charles Town, also endured tragedies, including the 1965 death of Stefan and Stefanie Doakes, her firstborn children, and the slaying of her son Arthur Clifton Doakes II 14 years ago.
Art Doakes was shot to death at age 38 after a confrontation with another man outside a Martinsburg home on March 23, 2005. A member of Destiny Baptist Church and a Martinsburg resident, he had attended Shepherd and been part of the football, wrestling and track teams at Jefferson High.
Eight months after the shooting, jurors in Martinsburg found Roynal L. Walker, then 48, guilty of first-degree murder. According to news accounts, Walker took the stand to express remorse for the shooting after the verdict was read and jurors had left the courtroom. “>From the bottom of my heart, Mrs. Doakes, I’m sorry for what happened,” Walker said.
Later, Doakes read a prepared statement and then told her son’s killer: “I see no remorse in you, and I’m sorry, I hope you burn in hell.”
Walker is serving a life sentence in the maximum-security Mount Olive Correctional Complex in Fayette County.
In 2000, James L. Taylor was one of the four founders of the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society and Mary Doakes was among those featured in the society′s collection, “African-Americans of Jefferson County.”
In addition to her grandchildren, Elizabeth M. Doakes and Arthur C. Doakes III, her survivors include three brothers.
WHAT THEY SAID
Dozens of former students, friends and others recalled Mary Doakes’ life and legacy in Facebook posts last week. A sampling of some of what they had to say:
JAMI CASHELL “I remember being an absolutely terrified sixth-grader and meeting her for the first time. ... But for all that fear, there was fairness, and kindness, and compassion. My education was better because of her involvement. The world needs more Mary Doakes.”
TIMOTHY YATES “Someone should really contact Hollywood and make a movie about her, she touched so many lives. Teachers and school administrators should really study her methods ... it all worked and we all came out better just knowing her. Anyone who went to Charles Town Junior High has a Mary Doakes story, at least one, [and] some have more than others.”
RICHARD SHIFLETT “I don’t think that there is anybody in Jefferson County that hasn’t been touched by her in one way or another. A stern but fair administrator that was loved by all. Have always had the most respect for her.”
PHIL KIDRICK “Ms. Doakes, you changed so many lives. You will be missed.”
TERRI SIZEMORE “Ms. Doakes, you forever changed my outlook on life in the seventh grade.”
KIM VIA MILLS “Your legacy will continue with those countless people you molded over the years. For that, we thank you!”
TANYA ADAMS “Known for her controversial methods of disciplining students at Charles Town Junior High, she was indeed well respected by all the students who walked her hallways. Mrs. Doakes was stern, but she cared about her students and did what was necessary to provoke us to be and do better! I can attest, because I frequented her office more than I care to remember. Thank you Mrs. Doakes for seeing the best in me when I couldn’t see it in myself.”
ANGIE WOODWARD HILL “What a truly amazing lady, educator, principal and inspirational leader! Your friends, family, and community will miss you and never forget you. Rest easy now, Mrs. Doakes, and God bless!”
KATHI WITHERS SNOW “She made a positive change in every life she touched.”
PAULA MARRONE-REESE “There was nothing Mary Doakes could not do!”
DENISE ROBINSON “I had the pleasure of bowling with her for a few years and enjoyed it to the fullest. She was such a fun person to talk to and had so many funny stories to tell. She could always make me laugh and she loved to laugh. Since I went to Harpers Ferry Junior High, I didn’t get to know her as a school administrator but I am amazed at how she was loved and respected by so many. As an educator myself, I only wish I could have had the opportunity to work with her and to learn from her. I will miss you, Mary!”
KIMBERLY BOYD BARAJAS “I know heaven’s in best behavior mode tonight!”
JOHN RUDOLPH “Jefferson County, West Virginia has had lots of wonderful educators [and] nobody could argue that Mrs. Mary Doakes wasn’t the best of them all. She was my principal in junior high, and if you share that experience with me, then you know what I am saying is true.”
ROSE MARIE “This lady is the reason I learned the value of hard work. ... When you walked through the halls of her junior high school, you knew you better behave yourself. You knew that you needed to do good and work hard to be successful. Fly high, beautiful lady, knowing you positively impacted the lives of so many impressionable young folks who are successful because of you. Thank you for showing me both sides of that tough love.”
CHARLOTTE COSTELLO AINSWORTH “The first time that I met her. My mom and I were outside on our porch swing and a car pulled in front of our neighbor’s house. The neighbor had lots of mean dogs, and the boy that lived there was older than me, a troubled kid who skipped school all the time. Ms. Doakes got out of her car and the dog growled at her. She kept walking toward the front door and looked at the dog and said: ‘Dog, you bite me, you gonna die before your time!’ She knocked and banged on that door until the boy finally answered and yes, she took him to school. All of these years later, I can still see (and hear) her yelling at that dog and then yelling at the boy to get his behind out of bed and to get ready for school. She was a legend.”